Keyontae Johnson leads No. 5 K-State in reunion vs. Gators

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The game doesn’t count in the conference standings for either team, but it’s likely to be an emotional game for Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson on Saturday night as the Wildcats host Florida in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Johnson is in his first season with the fifth-ranked Wildcats after spending his first three seasons playing for the Gators. His third season was cut short when he experienced a medical emergency with his heart on Dec. 12, 2020, during Florida’s game at Florida State. His health concerns sidelined him for the remainder of his junior season and the entire season following.

Before Johnson’s junior season at Florida — the season in which he collapsed — he was named SEC preseason Player of the Year and was widely considered a first-round NBA Draft prospect.

After he received medical clearance to play again, he chose the Wildcats over Nebraska, Western Kentucky and Memphis, among others.

Now he’s starring for Jerome Tang, who is off to the best start for a first-year head coach in K-State history. Keep in mind that in the preseason, the Wildcats were picked to finish in last place.

Johnson is averaging a team-leading 18.3 points and 7.5 rebounds for Kansas State (17-3) heading into Saturday’s contest against his former team.

“I call it a rebirth, a second chance,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s loss to Iowa State that dropped the Wildcats into a three-way tie atop the Big 12. “(God) gave me a second chance. I thank Him for the opportunity to wake up every morning.”

Johnson doesn’t harbor any resentment toward Florida, knowing that the Gators medical staff declined to clear him to return to the court. But it’s pretty certain that his emotions will be turned up a little more against his former team.

“It was very tough,” he said, “but they just had to do what was best for them medically and what they felt was safe for me. There is no ill will or hate for them. I’m still a Gator for life.”

With Johnson, K-State depends on Markquis Nowell (17.1 ppg and 8.3 assists per game) to form a solid one-two punch.

Florida (12-8) is also led by head coach Todd Golden, who is one of six coaches in the SEC to be in his first year on the job. With Wednesday night’s 81-60 victory over South Carolina, Golden became the first of those six first-year coaches to face all five of the others. He has a 5-0 record to show for it.

“I thought we did a nice job,” Golden said after the victory over South Carolina. “We still didn’t shoot it great, so if we can look at one thing to improve upon, (it’s) that and getting on the glass. We didn’t do a good enough job defensively on the glass.”

Golden has only two players averaging in double figures (Colin Castleton, 15.0 ppg; and Will Richard, 10.2), but six Gators are averaging at least 7.5 points. Castleton leads the rebounding, averaging 7.6.

–Field Level Media

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